Gather Around the Light
Creating an outdoor oasis around the fire pit
By Allison Pollock-Pugh
Warm summer weather provides the perfect opportunity to transform your backyard into an oasis that brings your daily life outdoors. Your backyard should be an extension of your home, adding usable square footage that welcomes family and friends. If you’ve ever been transfixed while watching a fire’s dancing flames, you know that a fire pit creates an unrivaled ambiance. It enlivens an outdoor space while providing warmth, the ability to cook, and radiating a feeling of summer nostalgia.
Fire pits have a calming effect; the heat and warm glow helps us relax and brings people together to share stories, late-night conversations, and of course, roast s’mores. Creating the perfect oasis around your fire pit will depend on your space, style, and the type of fire pit you choose.
How you design the area around your fire pit will depend on which type of fire pit is right for your lifestyle and yard. Whether you’re building a traditional wood-burning fire pit yourself or looking for a portable option with a propane tank that you can take camping, each has pros and cons that you need to weigh.
Wood-burning fire pits replicate traditional campfires. Made from various materials and available as both permanent and portable options, they provide warmth, the crackling sound of wood, and the ability to cook over its fire. Built-in fire pits are customizable and can be constructed with stone or brick over a weekend, whereas store-bought fire pits may carry a high price tag but come in various sizes—some of which allow for portability. Wood-burning fire pits also produce varying amounts of smoke that can irritate your eyes, nose and throat, the smell of which can also attach to fabrics.
Non-wood-burning fire pits have become more popular for their convenience in the backyard and more contemporary designs. Propane options are easily turned on and off without the messy ashes but don’t produce the warmth of a wood-burning fire and require an attached propane tank that needs regular refills. Gel fuel fire pits don’t emit smoke and cost less initially but require refueling every couple of hours. Natural gas fire pits connect to your home’s gas line. Its convenient supply and easy maintenance make it popular among homeowners, but it’s not ideal for cooking, isn’t portable, and is often costly to install.
Whether you envision relaxing backyard evenings with s’mores under the stars or plan to fill the space with friends and family ready to battle for this year’s croquet championship, seating sets the tone. If there are not enough seats, people won’t linger. If there’s not enough heat, people might head inside. Luckily, when it comes to sitting around a fire pit, there’s no shortage of creative options.
Safety is the top priority when planning your fire pit area—the seats must be a safe distance from the fire. Most experts recommend three to four feet between seating and the outermost edge of the fire pit. This ensures you are close enough to feel the heat yet not so close as to cause a safety hazard.
Next, you’ll want to consider style and space. Once you’ve decided on the type of fire pit that will work the best for your needs, look at the aesthetics of your home and backyard. Do you want a rustic vibe or a sleek, modern ambiance? How comfortable do you want the seats to be? Sitting on a wooden log bench is great for camping but can get uncomfortable quickly.
Adirondack chairs are the most traditional choice for fire-pit seating. They are comfortable, sit low to the ground, and have wide armrests providing a spot to set drinks and plates. Adirondack chairs come in a myriad of colors and weather-resistant materials. Depending on which kind you select, they can carry a steep price tag at several hundred dollars per chair, but the ease of simply hosing them off makes them a popular choice.
If you have an abundance of space, built-in hardscape circular benches of stone or brick pair beautifully around a fire pit. The curved shape fits perfectly around a circular fire-pit design, and the stone or concrete is fire-resistant. Depending on the material and installation method, this option can vary in price but will last for decades. Include outdoor throw pillows or a bench seat cushion for added comfort.
Sectional sofas and outdoor furniture are designed for comfort with thick, deep cushions that offer a luxurious space where you might want to take a quick nap. Often made of teak or outdoor wicker, they sit low to the ground so you can enjoy the warmth from the fire. The type of fire pit you selected is important when choosing outdoor furniture with fabric cushions. The smoke smell from a wood-burning fire can penetrate fabric, causing the smoky odor to linger. Additionally, due to rain and snow in the Pacific Northwest, store cushions indoors during winter or replace them each year. The cost of outdoor furniture varies widely, so shop around for one in your price range.
Whichever type of fire pit you choose or style of seating and ambiance you set, the joy of spending time outdoors by the fire pit creates lasting memories. Whether wine tasting with friends or hosting a neighborhood outdoor movie night, s’mores roasted over the fire taste just as good on a plush lounge chair as on an old folding patio chair.